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To Cloud or Not to Cloud? That is the Digital Question

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Unless you've been living in a bubble over the last year, there's a very good chance you've come across "the cloud" and have been introduced to the new idea of cloud storage or streaming for all of your digital content. There's a lot of techno-jargon attached to it, but in the most simple of terms, the cloud let's you have access to all your files or content from anywhere.

When you work as closely with consumer electronics and technology as I do, it's easy to get very curious about where it's all going and what new experiences it will unlock for us next. Technology is personal, and it's easy to see how attached people get to it -- just look at how entrenched we are with our smartphones, or how our laptop settings are uniquely tailored to our specific preferences. From the first Maxell cassette tape to the modern MP3 player, our collections of favorite music and movies are just as personal. It's more than that even; they're our actual property, in a truly physical sense. We've become so comfortable and familiar with the ability to physically store and own our content that it might be difficult to comprehend the idea of having something that you can't actually hold.

There's certainly no shortage of new flash drives, or external storage drives on the market that can give you trilobites of extra space -- but then again, this means you're still tethered to a machine that really only allows you to move your digital content from place to place. We don't download our content just so we can store it where we can see it, do we? Of course not. Some would argue this is the equivalent of being a digital-pack rat worthy of a spot on A&E's reality series Hoarders! A leap into the cloud will both literally and figuratively free you to actually enjoy the content you want wherever and whenever you want, without the usual burden of transporting it all with you in some physical storage device.

The question consumers are asking right now is where's it all going? Apple has been a big part of this conversation by offering consumers seamless movement of their digital content within the popular eco-system of products they offer. And with the buzz building around iCloud and the explosion of other new cloud-based storage services like Dropbox, and new streaming services like Spotify or Rdio, is the mainstream push to the sky just a matter of time? I think it is. While it's still early in its beta launch, Google Music now allows you to upload 20,000 of your favorite songs absolutely free. Not only does the cloud offer an easier way to access and stream our favorite content, there's also the added peace of mind that comes along with being able to protect it somewhere else (come on, haven't we all spilled something on our Laptops or left our smartphone in a cab?).

While there are many new players emerging in the cloud streaming and storage space almost monthly, no one's yet emerged as the true consumer champion. This is good because personal choice is what consumers really want. The real question is whether or not the mainstream will fully embrace the cloud and truly embrace buying new digital content that they might not necessarily be able to see or store onto their hard drives. I think they will. Netflix has offered some early proof that cloud streaming is a viable offering to consumers and this bodes well for the new players in the music space as well.

But should we really consider the idea of storage and streaming so un-attached from the traditional comfort zone of our personal computers and media players? I get asked this question a lot, and my answer is absolutely, yes. Do you really own that song or your favorite movie if you can't see it on your hard drive? Of course you do. You own it as much as you always did -- only the medium has changed.

My perspective is that change is usually good, and having a variety of choices is even better. Cloud streaming and storage is most definitely the future of digital content. The other important consideration is how much the cloud will revolutionize the way we share our content and use it to facilitate many other things we'll eventually want it to do. It's only getting better and even the most tech-averse of us will find most cloud services and brands easy to sign up and access online or through their mobile devices. We should embrace the cloud and dive right in -- it's the difference between owning a digital picture frame to see your favorite pics or being able to turn any device you own into the same thing, in real-time. It's transforming the technology we're using today, and that's exciting. One thing's for sure -- we're just at the beginning of the cloud's true potential and with that in mind, it's most definitely worth a look up to the sky with an open mind.

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